FCE Class of 2002 • Whittier College 2006
As an 8th grader in 1998, Laura Martinez was the youngest student to join FCE. She dutifully met all of the program requirements: attended monthly meetings, earned As and Bs, and participated in meet and mingle events with FCE students on break from their first semester of college. True to her shy, curious nature, she sat on the sidelines and took it all in. “I never felt pressure from FCE, but my advisor continuously presented opportunities and nudged me into roles that required more of me,” said Laura. “At FCE, I couldn’t hide and I didn’t want to.”
As a member of the Student Leadership Team Laura helped organize and set the agenda for monthly SPACE meetings where families would come together for a meal, listen to a guest speaker, and break into small groups to discuss the topic of the evening. Laura credits her FCE experience with building the leadership skills and confidence she needed to run for city council and become the youngest and first Latina mayor of East Palo Alto, serving two terms.
Laura talks about the value of starting early with FCE’s community of mostly first-generation students and families. “Visiting colleges allowed me to see myself as a college student even before I started high school,” she remembers. “I toured UC Santa Barbara and thought: this is too big. When I stepped foot on Whittier’s campus, I loved the size, and I saw students and professors who looked like me.”
Embedded in FCE’s DNA is the need, the drive, the duty for every student to serve her community. At Whittier College, Laura learned how to be an activist. In 2006, alongside professors and peers, she helped gutt houses after Hurricane Katrina, and that same year she was part of the largest protests in US History supporting immigration rights. Immediately upon college graduation Laura was back in her EPA community managing an all-girls after school program. As an active FCE alumnae, Laura’s hard work and choices serve as a direct model for younger FCE students and those throughout her community.